The San Jose Stealth arrived in Portland, Ore., today as they prepare for their West Division Semifinal matchup with the Portland Lumberjax on May 1. It is the fourth meeting this season between the two teams, with the Jax taking the regular season series, 2-1. The Stealth (7-9) enter the playoffs as the West’s #3 seed with Portland (9-7) sitting in the #2 spot.
This isn’t the first playoff meeting between these two teams. In 2008, the Lumberjax entered the HP Pavilion in the West Semifinals as the #4 seed and took down the top-seeded Stealth 18-16 en route to the Champion’s Cup Final.
The Stealth will begin their playoff preparation today with a team meeting and film session followed by practice at a nearby facility. The focus of the Stealth will be slowing down the transition game of the Lumberjax led by All-Star Brodie Merrill, a Jax offense with four 50-point scorers and scoring on the #4 defense in the NLL and Goaltender of the Year candidate Matt Disher.
The Portland transition game is one of the best in the NLL. Merrill is second in the league with 216 loose balls and, even though his primary role is on the defensive side of the ball, he finished the year with 47 points (14g, 33a). Scott Stewart is also an offensive force out of transition with 31 points (13g, 18a).
Offensively, Ryan Powell leads an offense with a number of weapons. Powell has 62 points (18g, 44a) on the year, followed by Cory Conway with 57 points (23g, 34a). Peter Morgan is the team’s top goal-scorer with 29 and has 53 points total. Derek Malawsky rounds out the top scorers with 52 points (19g, 33a).
On the defensive end, Matt Disher anchors a defense that surrendered just eleven goals per game. He is third in the league with a .792 save percentage in 733 minutes of action. The Portland penalty kill unit was fifth-best in the league at 53.54%.
The Lumberjax will also spend the days leading up to game time developing a strategy against the potent offensive attack of the Stealth. The San Jose roster boasts four players with 60 or more points, led by Colin Doyle with 111 (38g, 73a). Doyle led the NLL in points during the regular season for the first time since 2005 when he was named the league’s MVP. He finished that season with…111 points. Rookie of the Year candidate Rhys Duch had a stellar season in his own right, recording 89 points (35g, 54a). He set a new rookie scoring record this season, topping Gavin Prout’s 82 points in 2002. All-Star Jeff Zywicki finished the regular season with 78 points (32g, 46a) and Cam Sedgwick had his best professional season with 63 points (23g, 40a).
The Stealth were 3-7 in their first ten games before winning four of their next five and clinching the three seed in the West. A big reason for that turnaround was the play of rookie netminder Tyler Richards. Richards stepped between the pipes at the Rose Garden on March 29th, and since then has yet to see a loss tacked onto his record. In that time, he’s allowed just 33 goals while making 152 saves in the process, and earning wins in all three contests and a no decision in the season finale in Toronto. In 280 minutes this season, he is ranked 2nd in the NLL in goals against average (10.08) and save percentage (.803).
The teams hit the floor at 7:30pm on May 1 at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Ore. The game can be seen live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.